Inslee insists climate change plan beats those of Democratic rivals

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — Democratic presidential hopeful Jay Inslee hit the streets in Michigan's  most polluted ZIP code Tuesday to tout a climate action plan that he said sets him apart in the crowded race, promising he's "got the chops to get it done."

The Washington governor launched his campaign for the 2020 race in March with a $9 trillion climate action plan. Inslee, the first governor to join the Democratic field, recently unveiled his environmental justice and clean water plans. He has called for requiring America's entire electrical grid and all new vehicles and buildings to be carbon pollution free by 2030, while phasing out all coal-fired power by 2035. 

Inslee kicked off the Detroit leg of his "Climate Mission Tour" at the Kemeny Recreation Center on Fort Street. He meet with environmental justice advocates and residents of the neighborhood near the Marathon Oil Refinery.

Inslee said the country has a "fatal addiction" to gas, oil and coal. 

“It’s killing us, literally and it’s destroying our climate," the 68-year-old Democrat told reporters Tuesday with the refinery as his backdrop. "We need a president who is willing to tell this industry we need to stand down. I’m the only one willing to do that right now.”

Inslee's visit came on a day when former Vice President Joe Biden rolled out his climate change plan and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts visited Detroit, with a later trip to Lansing, to highlight her environmental and manufacturing policies.

Biden is pitching a $5 trillion-plus climate proposal that he says would result in the United States achieving net zero emissions of carbon pollution by 2050. The former vice president calls for $1.7 trillion in federal spending over 10 years, with the rest of the investments coming from the private sector.

Inslee criticized Biden's plan as not going far enough to address the crisis.

"My plan puts up stop signs, and I’m afraid that the vice president's plan does not," he said. "He has some wishes for 30 years from now, but we can’t wait 30 years."

Marathon Petroleum Corp. has owned the site in southwest Detroit since 1959, touting its ongoing effort to be a "good neighbor." But residents surrounding the plant have long complained about health and quality of life worries associated with the refinery's emissions.

The Marathon petroleum refinery in southwest Detroit.

Lifelong resident Theresa Landrum was among those who told Inslee Tuesday about the challenges faced by the heavily industrialized neighborhood. 

She is pleased to see Inslee has made environmental issues a campaign priority.

"If it is not an agenda that they are talking about, then they shouldn't be talking about anything," Landdrum said. "I really have a great concern that more candidates haven't addressed this issue. This is Mother Earth that's being destroyed." 

A 2017 study ranked Detroit as the 10th worst metropolitan area nationally for asthma attacks in African-American children caused by exposure to oil and gas pollution.

The study, called “Fumes Across the Fence-Line,” found although Marathon is the only oil refinery in Michigan, the state ranks fourth in the nation for the number of African-Americans who live in counties with an oil refinery.

Inslee said Tuesday that he couldn’t speak directly to Marathon and where it ranks on the spectrum on investments in upgrading technology. 

“But they are representative that we simply cannot be doing this in perpetuity,” said Inslee, adding Americans need to start buying carbon-free vehicles within a decade. “Otherwise, our goose is cooked. The science is clear.”

Marathon spokesman Jamal Kheiry said Tuesday that the company was grateful that Inslee chose to tour the area of Detroit where it's done business for 60 years.

"As we manufacture the fuels that people use every day to enhance their lives, we take our responsibility for environmental stewardship seriously," he said, noting Marathon has reduced its emissions by nearly 80 percent over the last 20 years. 

"We believe our efforts at the refinery are an example of the emissions reductions that can be made in this heavily industrialized area," he said, also welcoming Inslee to tour the facility.

The Republican National Committee took aim at Inslee, saying he's "just another 2020 hypocrite scooting around unrealistic and costly policies."

"While Inslee lectures others for their climate change failures, he was unable to get similar environmental policies off the ground in Washington State," Michael Joyce, an Republican National Committee spokesman, said in a statement. "In Michigan, policies like the Green New Deal would only harm residents and the economy — especially Michigan auto workers who’d be out of a job if Inslee gets his way.”

Inslee's visit included an afternoon round table with environmental leaders hosted by We The People of Detroit. The talk focused on challenges faced by the city's impoverished communities and a water shutoff campaign that ramped up during Detroit's bankruptcy.

North end resident Valerie Blakely said she's glad Inslee took the time to hear from Detroiters.

“He seems like a decent guy, and he’s been doing decent work. He seems very progressive,” Blakely said. “For him to be having an open conversation about water affordability, I’m in.”

Inslee's trip to Detroit is set to conclude with a tour of the city's north end, highlighting urban gardens, solar street lights and local projects aimed at fighting climate change.

A former congressman, Inslee has spent years as an advocate for combating rising carbon levels. On Tuesday, he said that his campaign has seen "a surge of interest" and that the message is resonating. 

His plans would marshal more than two dozen new or existing programs to shift U.S energy markets from fossil fuel dependence to renewable sources; transform U.S. automobile manufacturing and construction practices; and remake the nation’s infrastructure from public transit to municipal water and rural electric cooperatives.

Inslee projects about $300 billion in annual government spending over the first decade of the plan, with incentives he says will generate about $600 billion in matching private sector investment on everything from expanding solar energy to rebuilding dilapidated water systems like in Flint.

Associated Press contributed.